Why does Atkins beat kashrut?

Not the Circle-K, dude.I keep kosher, or what I call konservative kosher — my family walks into any restaurant and orders four salmon platters, or two salmon platters, a quesadilla, and an eggplant parmesan.  You get the idea; not kosher enough for some, but certainly a bit uncomfortable on Sloppy Joe Friday at the office cafeteria.

When people ask me, “What gives?”  on Sloppy Joe Friday, I say I’m a vegetarian. 

When people ask me why I’m holding out when someone brings Krispy Kremes to a morning meeting during a particular week in spring, I don’t crack open Exodus to explicate kosher l’pesah; I say I’m on a diet.  Everyone nods in understanding, sighs in solidarity, and secretly gloats that there will be more donuts to go around.

What’s wrong with me?

I’m I ashamed of being Jewish?  Or have I just learned that telling people I keep kosher is a low-return investment of my time and their attention? 

You tell someone you keep kosher, and then explain what that means (usually required in the US Midwest), and you can count on a couple of reactions. 

One, their eyes glaze over as soon as they hear, “According to Leviticus…” 

Two, they grin politely while thinking, “So this guy’s too good for Sloppy Joe Friday, eh?  What does that say about me?”

Or can you count on this?  Am I projecting?  Am I missing an opportunity to share something meaningful about myself and my beliefs with intelligent, well-meaning coworkers?

The fact is that if you say you’re on a diet, everyone gets that.  In the US most of us are overweight, all of us are vain, and we all want to appear magnanimous in our support for others’ self-sacrifice.

We all get vegetarians; everyone’s heard of Gandhi, or has a sister or a kid or a sister’s kid who’s weird like that.

You tell someone in the US Midwest you don’t eat what they eat for religious regions, they feel judged, and so do you.

So I have two questions for you:

First, why is following fad diets (South Beach, Atkins, Blood Type) more socially acceptible than following a millenia-old pattern of eating for religious reasons in a nation that was founded on religious tolerance?

Second, is a Jew obliged to own up to kashrut, and explain it if necessary, if that’s the real reason he’s not eating in a social setting with non-Jews?

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